Year C, The Resurrection of Our Lord
April 21, 2019
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“I have seen the Lord!”
Alleluia! Christ is Risen! <The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!> Happy Easter everyone! Alleluia! Christ is Risen! <The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!>
As I said last night at the vigil, what is really important is that it happened: Resurrection. Having faith, confidence, trust, belief, whatever word you want to use for it, having faith that God’s Son died a horrendous death and through the deep the mystery of God was Resurrected that we all might be free, that is most important. To know that what Mary Magdalene said at the tomb, “I have seen the Lord!” was true: that is what is most important.
To realize the promises of Christ, to be the people God made us to be in this broken world, we need to feel it. The Passion. The Resurrection. We need to feel the joy of victory and agony of defeat; the consolation of knowing that you are loved and the desolation of the long loneliness of the human condition. The drama of the past three days primes our feeling pumps.
Now what we believe, as in understand in our minds, that is not nearly as important as many of us think. That kind of belief is so Enlightenment. Think about the Good Friday service. The meaning of Good Friday, as we recall it in our liturgy, isn’t explained. The darkness is our teacher. The choir is our proctor. The dim flicker of candles, lit by those venerating the Cross of Jesus Christ instructs us on meanings too deep for words. The flames we re-kindled last night, in the spectacular Exsultet Lucy offered us, really, that is reason enough to stay up late, the first glorious alleluias in the first glorious Eucharist of Easter impart the lesson of the season as do the flowers today, the Easter dresses, deviled eggs and ham and Easter baskets. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! <The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!> That Easter Anglicanism, that little liturgical call and response is our best teacher. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! <The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!> Do you feel it? I hope so. It feels really good. Joy feels good. And in this world, we need some sincere and wholesome joy at least once a year.
I do have a confession to make. My confession is that I have always struggled with Easter. The given-ness is fine. Great is the Mystery of Faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Yes. Yes. And emphatically Yes. That it happened, I trust in that, in that I, we are saved; that’s not my problem.
Feeling wise, really since I became Episcopalian, in particular since I have been embracing the Triduum as a religious experience, diving deep into the liturgy, not sleeping over Maundy Thursday all that, I feel it. Tears fall on Good Friday just because. Holy Saturday is a blur. Emotions are raw. And the joy of the light, the flowers, the music, you all at the vigil and continuing right now on Easter morning… I feel it. So that’s not it.
My confession is that I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around it, Easter. Resurrection. Maybe it is that I have never been too concerned about going to heaven. The most commonly held idea about Easter, about Jesus Christ crucified and raised for us, about the purpose and meaning of Christianity is: We sinned. Jesus died on our behalf. We get to go to heaven. That is what most people inside and outside of the church think we are talking about, think that that is why we are here, what we are celebrating. That meaning has always fallen short for me. Maybe that is a younger person’s issue. Maybe it is that my initial theological formation was with descendants of Universalists whose whole deal was that God is too loving, too forgiving to condemn anyone to eternal damnation. I don’t know, maybe it is that that is not what Jesus said. Jesus said virtually nothing about the afterlife, about the condition of our souls when we die. What Jesus talked about was life. He talked about our lives in relationship with others, with God. He gathered people. He healed them, fed them, restored relationships, condemned injustice. He strengthened the faithful, aroused the careless and restored the penitent. His ministry was all about making real the Kingdom, the Commonwealth of God right here, right now. We are saved. I believe that, I have trust, faith in that statement. Where I get confused, where our tradition gets murky for me, is from what? This somewhat muddled Lent for me has opened up some things for me. Mostly, that it is not a question of being saved from anything that Jesus is up to in the world. It is much more a question of being saved for something.
There is no one answer. But here is a theory that I want to offer today, a little theological nugget, that is in the process of blowing my religious mind, my understanding not only of our religion, but of my own relationship with God in Christ with the Holy Spirit. I’ve been reading N.T. Wright, an Anglican bishop and New Testament scholar, and he is opening some things up for me. He teaches, or as he would say, observes in the Bible, that our goal is not heaven. Our Christian goal, what we are celebrating today, is the grace given gift of a renewed human vocation within God’s renewed creation.
A renewed human vocation within God’s renewed creation… that perked up my ears. Our vocation, as this theory goes, is to bear God’s image in the world. The human vocation is to bear God’s image in the world. Imago Dei, right? We are made in God’s image. And our function in the cosmos is to bear that image, to shine God’s light, to be God’s being in the world as the conscious loved and loving creatures we are made to be. We bear God’s image here and now in the Creation and we reflect our blessings and praise back to the Creator. That is why we are here.
But then sin happened. Original sin. Sin isn’t being naughty. Our naughtiness is the result of sin, and it does exasperate it don’t get me wrong, but our poor behavior is not the root. The root, proclaimed over and over again in every corner of the Bible is idolatry. Idolatry is putting things between God and ourselves. It is the distance between us and God filled in by created things. This happens by us treating as God things that are not in fact God. Giving authority we ought to reserve to God to things that are not God. We hand over power all the time. To leaders. To systems. To beliefs. To desires. To habits. To laziness. And all of that distorts our genuine humanness. We are created in God’s image. We have immense power. And immense power distorted is deadly. Think of the power contained in one atom of hydrogen. Bent to the wrong purpose, and “I have become death, destroyer of worlds.” Look around.
God did. And God set about to fix it. Through Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, the prophets, David… the call to return was issued. And it didn’t happen. Volumes have been filled on the whys and hows it didn’t. For an Easter morning, let it suffice to say that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever shall believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, culminating in the horror of Good Friday, a divine revolution was launched. The self-sacrificing death of Jesus Christ, His choosing to give His own precious for the good of the world, changed everything. What happened on the cross was “a huge, life-changing, world-changing reality, long promised, long awaited.” It was the an outpouring of self-giving love of such proportion that it changed everything. What concerns us on Easter morning 2019 in Eugene, Oregon is that what Christ did on the Cross is change us. The important work was done by Jesus on Golgotha, it was responded to by God by Resurrection, and it demands that we respond. We must respond to the love poured out on the Cross by Jesus by pouring our own love out into, onto the world. That is what bearing God’s image in the world it, pouring God’s love into the world as God pours love into us.
Resurrection, sure, you were lost and now are found, you were dead and now are alive. Alleluia! But why a cross? Why was the suffering needed? Who knows? Great is the mystery of faith. For whatever reason, as observed and attested to through our ancestors’ experience, suffering is how the world is changed. If you have given birth, I understand that you have some insights into this fact. The wages of sin are suffering and death. Most of what is good and holy in the world has come into it through suffering, and too often death, death of the righteous, the innocent, the favored by God. The Cross, the death of God upon that Cross is how it happened: Salvation. Restoration of our vocation and the restoration of heaven on earth. As the Right Reverend Professor Wright puts is, “The victory of the Cross will be implemented through the means of the cross.” And what happened there? An ultimate reality changing outpouring of self-giving love. We, as Christians, “are called to respond to the love poured out on the cross with love of our own: love for the one who died for us, yes, but also love for those around us, especially those in particular need.”
That is Resurrection happening. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ happens in us! Right here, right now! Jesus Christ the Risen Lord is active in us, “…the rescued rescuers, the redeemed human beings called to bring redeeming love into the world – justified justice-bringers, the reconciled reconcilers, the Passover People.” There is a lot of work to do, and we, are bearers of God’s image in this world, redeemed and empowered by the radical outpouring of life-giving love by Jesus Christ have the means to do it. Resurrection indeed. Now that is something to be happy about on Easter.
I am so glad you are here today. (So is your mother). I am so glad for the flowers and the dresses and the Easter Eggs already hiding outside. I am so glad that we get to share this very Good News on this very joyous day when earth and heaven are reconciled to God. I am so glad, not that Jesus died, but that He loved us as He did, loved us so much, that not only is heaven and hell not even a question, but that the world as it is can change, will change because of that love, love He gave that shines through us. “I have seen the Lord!” Alleluia! Christ is Risen! <The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!> Happy Easter! AMEN